The Tears of a (white) Clown


Wow. So the last time we chatted, I had run into a colleague from the past who nudged me about this blog. About writing in general. As we parted ways I had a spring in my step, a fire in my belly, a bag of poop in my hand...dog poop, remember I was walking Walter.

And you guys, I did feel inspired. That old tickle came back, the one that I imagine is caused by the words and the stories that are dying to get out of my head. "Dammit" I thought to myself. "I do want to get back at it. Okay, let's do this." 

I had a draft or two started, and was gearing up to go full blown blogger again, when tragedy struck.

George Floyd. 

He was murdered about 8 miles from the very spot where I sit here with the ancient laptop and play writer. Eight miles. The outrage and the grief turned Minneapolis into a burning epicenter of protests, demonstrations and yep, riots. 

I closed the laptop because at that chunk of time, the last thing anyone wanted to hear was a middle aged white woman babbling on about tv shows and quarantine weight. 

It wasn't time for me to write or speak. It was time for me to listen and try to help. And so I did. 

George has been laid to rest, his killer(s) are in custody. Racism is still going strong but I am hopeful that some eyes have been opened, including mine. A lot of us white people think we're pretty freaking woke but I'll tell ya what: we're still snoozing, my friends. There is a lot to do, so much to learn and omg so much to unlearn. 

I had a little wake up call when I posted something on this blog's Facebook page. Every Friday I post a meme roundup. At this point I don't remember how it started but honestly it was the only real way I had to mark time during the quarantine for a while. "Oh shit it's Friday isn't it? I have to do the memes." I was like the Dunkin' Donuts guy from the old timey commercials except instead of "time to make the donuts" it was "time to post the memes". 

Anyway. So obviously it wasn't the right time to post memes, you know? Instead I posted a pic of Minneapolis in flames and said something like "no memes today, our city is burning". Well. A follower on the page, who happened to be a Black woman, called me out. And did so with great gusto and ferocity. Her grief and her rage were tangible in her words as she took my ass to task for not addressing WHY the city was on fire. She let me have it and I was defensive, so defensive. I think I swore at her in my reply. I cried- tears of a white clown. Because SHE WAS RIGHT. I sat with her scathing criticism for a bit and let it sink in. SHE WAS RIGHT. Why didn't I say why Minneapolis looked like Dante's Inferno? Why didn't I use my platform, my admittedly tiny platform, to call attention to the atrocity that had taken place 8 miles from where my big ass sits and scrolls through the Netflix menu and where I complain about the toxic farts my ancient dog lets rip 24/7?

I'll tell you why: because I was, and honestly still am, scared. Scared to rock the boat, scared to speak up, scared to stir the pot, scared to offend people. Chicken. Cowardly. 

But I'm trying to change. I am speaking up, I'm trying to use my voice to help open up some more eyes.

If you've been here for a while, you know this about me: I'm a people pleaser. I'm Switzerland, I'm the one who likes to smooth feathers, not ruffle them up. Okay, yeah, I've given my ex and his lady friend some shit, along with a few unfortunate dudes. But in general? My Minnesota Nice is almost as thick as my Minnesota accent. 

I joke about it, about the Lutheran Libra who will say something funny and then offer up a drink or snack. The one who tries to diffuse tension vs acknowledging the bleeding and screaming elephant in the room. We can blame my upbringing for this, we can blame centuries of white DNA, we can blame it on the rain. 

I'm changing. There's not much I can do about being Minnesotan, there's nothing I can do about being white or a Libra. But there is so much I can do about everything else. 

That woman, the one who let me have it on Facebook? I reached out to her, privately, and apologized. And thanked her, profusely, for taking the time to school me. In the middle of one of the most important civil rights movements in our history, she stopped grieving and fighting and tried to pry open my stupid eyes. I think we ended on good terms. I sure hope we did. 

And so, now you know why I didn't check back in here for a while. It was learning time. And it will be, for a lot longer. 

Don't worry, if things work out and that tickle is still tickling and the laptop holds up and I keep running into Ellen, there will be more action on this page. I'll still talk about life after divorce and what it's like to be alone during a fucking pandemic (oh yes we are so totally going to talk about the "hahah omg i want to smother my husband" stuff, I promise). We will talk about how I'm pre-mourning the loss of my beloved dog and how my unemployment hasn't kicked in yet (no paycheck since June...oh honey we will totes talk about that). For sure we'll talk about my angel landlord, the 12 pounds I've gained and what skills I hope to hone before the Civil War starts. I'd love to talk about the anxiety I have about my orchids. And how my friends and I have become Poshmark obsessed (and maybe how it kept a roof over my head this summer). Ooh and we can talk about kids growing up and being ADULTS and tv shows and how much I miss going to movies. 

But we're also gonna talk about Black lives. About how they matter and about the racism we white people have to drag out into the daylight and stomp to death. 

I owe it to that beautiful woman who kicked my ass, virtually. I owe it to the Black people I know and love. I owe. And so that's where we're at here on this dusty old blog. 

Black lives matter. I'm trying to be a better person. I'm trying to be an ally. 

I'm trying. 

I also really can't stand trump. But we can talk about that later, too. 😉


Sidewalk Nuggets

A few days ago, I was out on my daily quarantine walk with Walter. Back in the PC days (pre Covid, ya know), I used to feel anxious when the tiny outline of an oncoming person would appear on the horizon. The whole eye-contact thing: do I look them in the eye as we approach each other? no that's fucking creepy, Jenny. A small sideways glance as we pass? Ugh. LOOK DOWN. No that's rude. By the time the person was actually within eye-contact distance I'd already worked myself into a small, silent frenzy and would usually end up giving them that weird muppet mouth grimace/smile.

Ahh. But these are the Covid days. The anxiousness is now a constant sidekick, the moment we step foot off our driveway and onto the gray cement sidewalk. Because now I worry about so much more than eye contact. jesus they're awfully close, neither of us are masked up oh my gawd JUMP and off I go into a tangle of tall weeds or into the bike lane (usually with the muppet grimace, some things haven't changed). 

So this particular day, we were about a third of the way through our walk- half a mile from home. I saw another person and did the sane thing which that day was cross the street. I find it easier to do than leaping into thickets. As this person drew nearer, I realized it was someone I knew. Or rather, someone I used to know. A million years ago I worked in the cosmetic department of Dayton's in downtown Minneapolis. This was the early 90's, before I was married and when I still believed babies were abhorrent, noisy nightmares contained in ankle-cracking strollers. 

We had a fun crew there at the ol' Prescriptives counter. There were four of us: me, the 20-something party girl; Kim, another 20-something but with a live-in boyfriend and more sense; April, yet another 20-something who modeled and dated older, wealthy men; and Ellen. Ellen was our resident makeup artist and unbeknownst to her, one of the wisest people I'd ever met. She was willowy, with a gorgeous thick, stick-straight shock of black hair that was streaked with silver. I remember so much about her, from the way she'd stand there, one hip leaning against the counter, arms folded with one slender hand curled under her chin, to the hypnotically rhythmic way she'd smash up the pigments we used to custom blend powder. 

Ellen was married, with two young children. I'm sure she listened to the rest of us, with our tender Gen X tales of woe and joy, and internally shake her head. She dispensed wisdom, but not in a condescending, wise-old-owl way. No, her nuggets of worldly enlightenment often came at us stealthily, buried in the layers of small talk that we makeup ladies partook in during the slow moments of the day.

There was the time one of the girls from the Origins counter was fired after only two week's employment. Ellen and I were working, and as we observed the unfortunate employee being given the bad news (the cosmetics department was a cold place), Ellen leaned her hip against the counter and sighed, "Some people are just too soft for this world." Those words would pop into my head for years, in fact they still do. Oftentimes they pop into my head when I find myself crying over something like baby geese or the thought of my dog dying and I think well I'll be damned! Ellen was right, some of us really are too soft for this awful world.

My time at the counter ended when my whirlwind relationship with Big Daddy got serious and we decided to move to the suburbs, together. I traded the makeup brushes for a folding board at The Gap, inside a bland mall across the street from our new apartment. After we had one kid and were expecting a second, we moved into my old childhood house that my dad still owned. Rented at first and then bought it from him. It was in a charming postwar neighborhood, and one night as we were pushing little Charlie around in our very own ankle-cracking stroller, I saw Ellen standing out in a yard. Yes, we were neighbors around-the-block, and after we caught up we'd say "hi" now and then but never much more than that. She was busy with her pre-teen kids and I, of course, was afloat in a sea of babies and toddlers and preschoolers. 

After all the shit hit the fan with my marriage, and especially after losing that damn house, I never really saw Ellen anymore. 

Until last week. 

As Walter and I made our way up Glenwood Avenue, there was Ellen, making her way down. In the days of old, I most likely would have not even noticed it was her, what with the cuckoo inner monologue and all. But these are different days. These are the Covid days and I miss talking to people so damn much that I manage eye contact sometimes and that day I was feeling positive and kind of happy so as we passed on opposite sides of the street I exclaimed, "ELLEN!". She looked over, and I thumped my chest like mother effing Tarzan and said "Jenny!" (yes I'm laughing too because could I be any more awkward?). She smiled and we stood there, on our respective sides of the road and caught up a tiny bit. 

Her gorgeous hair was still thick and straight but now it was completely silver, with a swoop of lavender. Other than that, she was the same. The same as she had been almost 30 years ago, one hip on the counter and her elegant hand perched under her chin. 

Before we parted she said one more thing, and over the past few days I've come to realize that she is still a dispenser of wisdom, even in a setting as casual as a mid-morning sidewalk encounter. 

She said:

"I really enjoy reading your blog."

Now, this isn't the first time someone has brought up this blog, or my writing, in casual conversation. It happens now and then. Not as frequently as it did when I was, you know, actually WRITING, but it does come up. My reactions vary a bit but are usually along the lines of "oh that old thing? I never write anymore. I should do that more often..." And then life goes on and I shove all thoughts of blogging and writing back into the dark dank corner of my heart where they've lived for a while now.

But something different happened when Ellen said those words to me. I don't know what it was, if it was her voice, or just that momentary clutch of time and air and sidewalk and plague or what...but something different happened. Oh, yes, of course I still mumbled something about "oh yikes yeah I haven't written there in ages" but more than that. Her words stuck, just like they did decades ago in that long-gone department store. This time it wasn't me, half listening while thinking about what I was going to wear to the bars that night, this time is was me, struggling to feel something...anything, out for a walk with my geriatric dog.

Ellen's words reminded me that once upon a time, I wrote. And that I loved doing it. 

And so, reader(s?), here we are. That little sentence spoken by a long-ago colleague was the nudge I needed to do this. 

You'd think two and half months of quarantine would have been enough of a nudge, huh? Turns out I just needed to hear someone say it.

So. Thank you, Ellen. For everything. 

Buckle up, friends. We have a lot of catching up to do.

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